Appalachian Food

Eating Grits is the Law

Plate of breakfast with grits

Back in the 1960s when the War on Poverty was in full swing, Berea became a center of activities administered by the Council of the Southern Mountains. The council, a non-profit organization, was fifty years old and had worked with the mountain people a long time. I was associate editor of “Mountain Life & Work,” a quarterly publication of the council. I was in a position to see the young and not-so-young poverty workers swarm in, bringing their eastern and midwestern culture and background head-on into the culture of Appalachian people. The type of food and the way it was cooked were not the least of adjustments they were expected to make.

One day after a trip into Georgia, two of them were talking about an experience they’d had in a little country restaurant. One of them particularly loathed grits, which were served everywhere in the South whether he ordered it or not. That morning he asked the young waitress why it was that grits were served even when he had not ordered it. The young waitress shyly replied: “I think it’s the law, sir.”

—Sidney Saylor Farr – “More than Moonshine”


Wouldn’t that be a great law? Mandatory grits with every meal 🙂

Last night’s video: Chainsawing on the Mountainside – Trimming Trails, Gathering Rich Pine, Sawbriars, & Stories.

Tipper

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44 Comments

  • Reply
    Jim Taylor
    March 10, 2022 at 8:36 am

    I remember sometimes having ONLY a bowl of grits for breakfast before school – not that we couldn’t afford more, but because some days we’d be running late. That was in the ’60s. I still do that now.

    We have friends here in Maryville transferred down from Michigan in the ’90s. They have assimilated well except they refuse to eat grits.

  • Reply
    Gary
    March 6, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    I grew up in Miami, eating grits for breakfast all the time. I had a stepfather who was from Tennessee, so I learned to eat many southern foods, my friends would never eat. I loved to take the runny yolk from fried eggs and mix it with the grits. I remember once when we were on vacation, when I was younger, we stopped at a restaurant somewhere in a northern state, When I asked for grits, the waitress told me “We don’t serve those here”. I was a little shocked they didn’t eat them, still remember to this day, many years later.

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 1, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    Lol…that’s one funny story…”I think it’s the law sir”…lol
    I love grits! Mixed with butter, sugar, or salt, with cheese or with shrimp. Anyway you fix them I’ll at least give them a try, but they do have to be made rite. Some folks make them so dry it’s like eaten concrete or so runny it’s like grainy soup. They have to be just rite to taste good!

  • Reply
    Jan
    March 1, 2022 at 3:54 pm

    Tipper, I love your biscuit style. That’s how my mother made them. Not so fat and doughy! We never had grits growing up here in WNC, but we always had a bowl of cooked apples on the table.

  • Reply
    Robert
    March 1, 2022 at 1:53 pm

    In a family of 11, grits were a great way to fill bellies cheaply. I love ’em, but the high carbohydrate content puts them on my no-no list. I cheat occasionally just like I do with biscuits. We had grits with every meal and sometimes as an after school snack on a cold winter day. IMO, they are best with sharp cheddar cheese stirred in just before they are done.

    I’ve heard that grits stands for Girl Raised In The South. When I came to Texas I found that they became singular: Girl Raised In Texas. Either way my daughter qualifies because she was born in NC, and has lived in TX most of her life.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    March 1, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    Funny and very true story about my father-in-law. He was from Detroit (and lived there until he passed a few years ago at age 92). He enlisted in WWII. He was promptly sent to CAMP (now Fort) Rucker in Enterprise, Alabama. Having never left the Midwest, everything was new to him. When he finally got a pass to go off base, he went to breakfast at some local establishment. He couldn’t understand why on earth they would be serving mashed potatoes with breakfast, but figured it was just a “southern thing.” He said he took a big, ol’ spoonful of those mashed potatoes (mind you, I’m sure without salt or butter, milk or sugar) and stuck it in his mouth. He was so shocked he didn’t know whether to spit them out or swallow. Funny thing, he never told me which he did. Never did try them again no matter what we did to them. I always wanted to try giving him cheesy, bacony grits, but he was such a sweet man, I didn’t want to upset him. He went ashore D-Day, survived battling through Holland and Belgium (Battle of the Bulge), managed to stay alive after the battles in the Hurtgen Forrest, and crossed the Rhine. This brave man had the courage to do all that, but he wouldn’t take on grits again.

  • Reply
    Tommy
    February 28, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    Grits. Yuk! Why take something as good as corn & deteriorate it into that stuff.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    February 28, 2022 at 7:58 pm

    Tipper,
    Baked Garlic Cheese Grits used to be served in our cafe at work once or twice per month for lunch. They sold out, FAST!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 28, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    I think from all y’alls comments I figured something out! Grits are Southern breakfast cornbread. So maybe it should be the law that there must be cornbread at every meal but grits count?

    Fun reading today whether you love’em or hate”em. And don’t forget Forrest Gump’s buddy’s list. His last item was “shrimp grits and I think that’s all.’ I just can’t remember what Forest’s question was. Did he ask, ” How many ways can you have shrimp?” Or was it, “How many ways can you have grits?”

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 28, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    Tipper & everyone,
    Several years ago I attended a festival in West TN. featuring older homes and arts & crafts of the past. We were told that a quilt on display was made with material donated through the WPA or one of the other agencies. I have never been able to find any info on this. Do any of you recognize such a program??

    • Reply
      Tipper
      February 28, 2022 at 7:43 pm

      Wanda-I wonder if it was the Works Progress Administration? It was a program developed to assist people during the great depression I believe 🙂

    • Reply
      Jim Taylor
      March 10, 2022 at 8:30 am

      I just read a book “Appalachian Folkways” that had brief history of quilting and a list of quilting guilds/clubs. I just finished it last week, but can’t remember any of the guilds’ names. (It’s tough getting old ad forgetful.) If you want, I’ll go back to the Blount County library and transcribe some of it.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 28, 2022 at 2:52 pm

    I grew up in the South In West Tn–Memphis area. Somehow we never had grits as I was growing up. We didn’t have rice either–maybe as breakfast cereal rarely. I love Cream of Wheat but I do have trouble with grits–need butter & sugar on mine!

  • Reply
    Jeanne Fugina
    February 28, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    Is there a difference between grits and cornmeal mush? Seems we call it cornmeal mush in Wisconsin. Have never been fond of it, but would certainly sweeten it up for breakfast. The thing that I HATED as a kid, and do not eat as an adult is hominy. My dad seemed to like it and mom had it regularly. Oh, my gosh, how I disliked this. Ugh!!

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    February 28, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    I didn’t grow up eating grits, but I love them now.

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    February 28, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    That’s funny, mandatory grits with every meal.
    Ron,
    Love your comment , “grits are like grace, you get it whether you ask for it or not”.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    February 28, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    Tipper,
    We ate what is called “mush” made from corn meal. Of course, we smothered it with butter and sometimes made it sweet with sugar. Mush was not a breakfast meal, per say, but could be eaten with any meal and sometimes WAS the meal. There wasn’t a law which required that you eat mush, but sometimes it was the “law” of “only choice” which made one eat mush.
    Per Margie H’s comments of not liking grits, an old saying I remember from years ago, “Good, that leaves more for those who like grits”. Of course, it was said in jest without any malice.
    Side Note: A Marine veteran friend of mine said he used to tell fellow Marines who were not familiar with grits that they grew on trees.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    February 28, 2022 at 10:34 am

    I put sugar on mine. My wife says that is wrong. I say that grits are a cereal and need butter and sugar. I DO NOT eat liver mush.

  • Reply
    Ray C. Presley
    February 28, 2022 at 10:30 am

    I also like white grits better than the yellow, and I never put sugar on them. That picture Tipper posted today, with grits, fried eggs and country ham made me think of a dewy morning, a wood fire, a pot of miner’s coffee and a country breakfast like that.

    • Reply
      Peachy
      April 4, 2022 at 10:20 pm

      In the South, we will tell you that grits are white. Most of the time when a person serves you yellow “grits” it isn’t grits at all … it’s polenta!

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    February 28, 2022 at 10:06 am

    When I was growing up we had grits every morning for breakfast. I’m 71 years old and I still love them! A friend told me GRITS means:. Girls Raised In The South!!! That’s me. Take care and God bless

  • Reply
    OpenTheDoor
    February 28, 2022 at 10:00 am

    I was living in Southern CA in the early ’70s, you could not find grits.
    Had a friend on our race team, he was a produce manager at Albertsons, big chain food store.
    Asked him if he could order grits, said he would try.
    Later that month, he told me they came in, he would bring a bag to our next meeting.
    He showed up with a pound bag, after going without for a while, I scoffed, said that wouldn’t last a month.
    Well, apparently the grits were a big hit, couldn’t keep them on the shelves.
    He actually got an award for the “Best New Product”.
    Imagine that, an award for grits being, “new”.
    I always tell folks, grits are just an ingredient, not the meal.
    I make them with sharp cheddar, cream cheese and milk.
    Lactose intolerant, do not eat them !

  • Reply
    Randy
    February 28, 2022 at 9:46 am

    In the early 60’s our church had a preacher to leave and go to upstate New York to do mission work. Each month he would have someone ship him some grits and Duke’s mayonnaise. For the ones that don’t know in my area of the south (Greenville County, SC) using any mayonnaise but Duke’s is a crime and could get you hung. A lady started Duke’s by making her own mayonnaise and selling sandwiches in the cotton mills of Greenville, SC

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    February 28, 2022 at 9:40 am

    I do love grits, and I prefer to eat them with real butter, salt, black pepper, and grated cheddar cheese. Of course, red eye gravy works well too! Biscuits are obviously required.

  • Reply
    Sandra Henderson
    February 28, 2022 at 9:19 am

    What a great story!
    Hey, we’ve got an awful amount of laws out there! Some new ones being implemented every day…
    Of allllll of them,
    This would be the greatest!

    I like stone ground grits the best! The ones you rinse the chaf off of and take a while to cook.

    On a a different note, but kind of the same, as in getting things to mountain folks.
    I have friends who live in bryson city/Whittier area. He drove the mobile book unit here for years and would drop off some at the nearest store for some who lived down roads and way back where he couldn’t get in. Everyone was so nice he said and loved to see him come by.
    Didn’t know if you had any stories on the mobile book program.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      February 28, 2022 at 12:41 pm

      Sandra- I don’t but that would be a great subject 🙂

  • Reply
    Shirl
    February 28, 2022 at 9:06 am

    Every non-grit-eating citizen should be held accountable for breaking the law! Not eating grits is like not drinking water. At my house, I have got to have them both to live. The instant packets are pretty good too. I bought a variety box of flavored grits and found the jalapeno was the one that was best served at lunch or supper. I usually eat plain grits with a scrambled egg for breakfast.

  • Reply
    J. David Chrisman
    February 28, 2022 at 9:05 am

    Now that’s a law I’d get on board with right now! And throw in some biscuits & gravy while we’re at it!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    February 28, 2022 at 8:54 am

    In West Virginia grits have not caught on as well as farther south. Since I lived far south for a time I learned to love them. You have to know how to cook them, however. I worked at what I thought was a fine hospital at one time. Except it had one giant flaw. They did not know how to cook grits and they served them for supper which is the wrong meal. Patients who had no time to order what they wished were apt to receive on their dinner tray a big round, dry gob of tasteless grits 99.9% of them left them fortunately, as they would literally choke you to death. Don’t ask how I know. I have had to quickly give a drink to wash down the concoction if somebody chose against their better judgement to try them. During the time I worked there this never changed. I was often on the phone ordering something palatable from the kitchen to serve the victims of the grit ball. Those grit balls just kept coming, and in all those years I do not recall anybody eating them. They were a cheap option, but for supper?? When I left the job, we were required to give an exit interview, and write on a paper how they might improve. In my mind I pictured all those grit balls and thought I would just mention it now. After all, the dietary manager could not throw me dirty looks since I would no longer be around. Yep, actually nothing to complain about except the endless, tasteless boiled zucchini and the “ball of grits” for sides pawned off on innocent humble folks. I managed to write quite a paper on grits to include the fact many people in the area do not eat them.
    I love grits, and I eat them often even adding cheese occasionally. They are stirrable and in a bowl with butter mixed in, and they are always for breakfast. Talk about against the law, and I believe it should be against the law to serve grits for supper if you have no idea how to cook them, and if you are in a region that normally does not eat them. But you should have to put up bail if they are served in a dry ball!

  • Reply
    Violet
    February 28, 2022 at 8:38 am

    Back in the 1970’s my husband and I settled for a while in Buffalo, Wyoming where we treated ourselves to breakfast at the Busy Bee Cafe. The waitress came to take our order and being raised in the South my husband said, “I’ll have country ham, fried eggs, biscuits and gravy, and grits.” The waitress said,” Sounds good but we don’t have any of that!”

  • Reply
    Liz Hart
    February 28, 2022 at 8:26 am

    I like hot grits with lots of cheddar cheese stirred in!

    Ron Stevens I like that! “ So grits are like grace. You get them whether you asked for them or not and they are not on the bill.”

  • Reply
    Donna Marie
    February 28, 2022 at 8:24 am

    i remember the 1st time i had grits. it was at a so called “fancy orientation dinner” at the university of the south. they had cheese on top. it was all i could do to swallow the 1st bite. now 40+ years later i feel pretty much the same. i was born & raised in the hills of TN & we never had them one time in our house. my husband was born in Chicago & lived in Washington, DC until he was 10 & loves grits. he goes to Waffle House & orders plain grits (no salt, butter or anything) with 2 poached eggs on top along with a piece of dry wheat toast. it makes me wonder how anybody could eat such. i order the BLT w/ extra mayo. so you all can have the grits for my part. i would rather have oatmeal.

    • Reply
      Vernona
      February 28, 2022 at 3:51 pm

      I’m with you, Donna Marie! I grew up in Western Kentucky, with parents from Arkansas and Texas, and my mother NEVER cooked grits. I have had them as a grown-up. but I do not care for them. Like you, I love BLTs and oatmeal, but I am quite happy to leave all the grits to those who love them.

  • Reply
    Alton Wayne Byrd
    February 28, 2022 at 8:15 am

    Down here in South Mississippi grits are a morning staple for sure, we enjoy them year round. Sometimes we just add butter and that’s a meal, even sometimes after church we cook a pot of hot grits and eat. Keep blogging, I read these in the morning when I do my Bible reading and love it, keep sending the musical videos they are such a joy to listen too.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    February 28, 2022 at 8:12 am

    If serving grits with every meal isn’t the law…..then it should be! Ha! Ha! I love grits!!

  • Reply
    Mint2Bee
    February 28, 2022 at 7:31 am

    Well that’s a funny law. Don’t think I want grits with every meal but with every breakfast would be OK with me 🙂

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    February 28, 2022 at 7:30 am

    How could anyone not love grits ? lol❤

  • Reply
    Brad Byers
    February 28, 2022 at 7:27 am

    I cannot tell a lie – I prefer white grits.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 28, 2022 at 7:15 am

    A southern delicacy, for sure!

  • Reply
    Margie H
    February 28, 2022 at 7:08 am

    The whole grits thing i do not understand. Back in THAT man’s Army, I first saw grits- every morning, everywhere from New Jersey to Texas. The shocker was just how many folks consumed them every morning at chow. I think they taste like porridge. They look so sad and buttery just laying there. They taste and look like BLAND City. But that’s just one opinion here of many. Y’all knock yourselves out eating grits. Let’s just say I’m trying to cut down in that area and leave it there. If eating grits was a law, I’d have to BREAK it…

  • Reply
    donna sue
    February 28, 2022 at 7:06 am

    All my life I have associated grits with the south. I have had them once, and I really liked them. I keep telling myself that I need to start eating them at least once a week. I always think of them as only a breakfast food. But the last sentence of your post, where you said about wouldn’t it be great if there was a law that they should be eaten with every meal, made me stop and think “oh, they could go with any meal?!” Thanks for the suggestion!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    February 28, 2022 at 7:06 am

    My mother did not like grits, so we ate Cream of Wheat. I smothered mine in butter and sugar. When I moved back to TN, I was served grits for the first time in restaurants—and added butter and sugar. My friends from Mississippi and Louisiana snurled their noses and squinched their eyes when I made the grits sweet. They ate theirs as a savory with salt, or, better yet, with redeye gravy. How do your readers eat their grits? (Now that Cracker Barrel is everywhere, even Yankees eat grits.)

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 28, 2022 at 6:36 am

    That. is so funny. I read something similar about a fella traveling in the South . At breakfast he got grits on the side. He asked, “What’s that?” The waitress looked surprised, said, “That’s grits.” “I didn’t order those,” he said. Smiling in relief, she replied, “Oh, you don’t order grits. They just come ”

    So grits are like grace. You get them whether you asked for them or not and they are not on the bill.

    I’m not positive, but concerning odd food laws, I think I read it is against the law in KY to eat chicken with a fork. Maybe that has something to do with Colonel Sanders slogan.

    • Reply
      Randy
      February 28, 2022 at 2:02 pm

      That law must be in effect here too, I have never seen anyone eat a chicken leg with a fork. My daddy liked to joke and say fingers were made before forks.

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